“I got an offer I couldn’t refuse,” says 75 year old Stephen Lynch wryly.
“I was told it was either my leg coming come off or I had to stop smoking. That was 14 years ago and I haven’t smoked since but I’m not saying I don’t occasionally have a longing for one,” laughs Stephen.
“I began smoking when I was 15 years old, it was the thing to do back then. For the next 46 years I smoked roll ups.
I would take a paper out, sprinkle the tobacco in and roll it out. It was sort of a ritual - it was ten minutes out of my life where I could take a moment.
“Fast forward 46 years later to when I was 61 years old and I’m in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Raheny being assessed my a nurse, who told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t stop smoking my leg would end up being amputated because of blocked arteries. I told the nurse I’d have one last roll up but she said ‘no the one you smoked before you came in here was your last one!’.
“I did find it hard to quit smoking and I went cold turkey but I got lots of support from my family. I also gave up drinking which helped break the addiction. Since that conversation, I can honestly say that I never smoked since.
“In 2009, I got cancer in my throat – laryngeal cancer.
The doctor wanted to take out my voice box but I had 35 doses of radiation, which meant going to the hospital five days for seven weeks, along with chemotherapy every Friday for seven weeks on top of this. The treatments would nearly kill you. You lose all track of life when you’re in the middle of it."
“Last year, I went to the dentist as I thought I had a chipped tooth but he noticed something he didn’t like and suggested that I should see my GP. Two weeks later a biopsy told me it was cancer. This time it was in my tongue. I had surgery through my cheek to remove the cancerous cells. The surgery has left me with a shorter tongue, which means my speech can be a bit wonky and it’s harder to eat my food. I have no saliva now and even to eat a bit of chocolate I need a gallon of water.
“My leg with the blocked arteries is still very sore. The hospital tried to clean the arteries but it was only partially successful. Now I’m in constant agony, the pain is there 24/7. I used to love rambling but now I can’t walk anywhere, I can’t even go on holidays. It’s a bit of a nuisance.
“Today I’m due to go back into hospital to see if they can operate to put in a plastic vein to clear the blocked arteries in my bad leg. I’m hoping to hear good news. But unfortunately I have ulcers between my toes so I think they’ll postpone the surgery for another week. I can’t afford to allow any infection spread from the ulcers into the bad leg.
“This is the last chance salon for me and my leg. If the surgery is a success then it’ll be great but if it doesn’t work then I’m afraid they can’t do anything more. Fingers crossed that tomorrow when I meet the doctor my surgery can go ahead.
“Nearly 50 years ago, I married my wife Sheila and had three wonderful children – 2 girls and a boy. I have nine grandchildren now, the oldest is 18 years and Eoin the youngest was recently seven years old. As their granddad I want to see them all do well. They all have their own little things they are into and I want to be around for them as long as possible.
Did you know that smoking tobacco – cigarettes, roll-ups, pipes or cannabis - increases your risk of developing mouth cancer? If you want help to QUIT smoking, the phone the QUIT Team on 1800 201 203 and talk to our trained advisors. We also provide individual and group support at 74 clinics around Ireland – all free of charge. Call 1800 201 203 or log onto www.quit.ie to find out more.